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Six times more children self-report mental illness than 20 years ago, says research

The proportion of children and young people self-reporting a mental health condition has grown sixfold across England over two decades, a new study has found.

The study, a collaboration between University College London, Imperial College London, Exeter University and the Nuffield Trust, analysed data from 140,830 participants aged between four and 24 years, in 36 national surveys in England, Scotland and Wales.

The researchers found that in 1995 just 0.8% of children in that age group reported having a mental illness, while 4.8% did so in 2014.

They said the findings could reflect increased awareness and less stigma, but that the mental health services need more funding and support to keep up with the growing demand.

The paper, published in Psychological Medicine, said: ‘There was a consistent increase in long-standing mental health conditions over time.

‘Across all participants aged four to 24 years, the prevalence increased six fold over the 19-year period in England (from 0.8% to 4.8%), more than doubled in Scotland over 11 years (2.8–6.5%) and increased by more than half in Wales over 7 years (2.6–4.1%).’

University of Exeter Medical School researcher Professor Tamsin Ford, who was involved in the research, said: ‘We need to understand how much of this increase is down to a rise in the number of cases, and how much is the result of greater awareness and less stigma, meaning people are more willing to report it and seek help.’

Lead researcher Dr Dougal Hargreaves, from Imperial College London and the Nuffield Trust, added: ‘Our study suggests that this need is likely to continue to grow in future.

'Without more radical action to improve access to and funding for child and adolescent mental health services, as well as a wider strategy to promote positive mental health and wellbeing, we may be letting down some of the most vulnerable in society.’

This comes after the Government announced a new four-week waiting time standard for children and young people referred for mental health treatment by GPs.

Meanwhile, a recent survey saw that over one fifth of girls from across the UK have reported self-harming when they were 14 years old.

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